The Prestige of Violence

American Fiction, 1962-2007

Title Details

Pages: 184

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 09/15/2011

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3910-8

List Price: $24.95


Pub Date: 09/15/2011

ISBN: 9-780-8203-3889-7

List Price: $59.95

The Prestige of Violence

American Fiction, 1962-2007

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  • Reviews

In The Prestige of Violence Sally Bachner argues that, starting in the 1960s, American fiction laid claim to the status of serious literature by placing violence at the heart of its mission and then insisting that this violence could not be represented.

Bachner demonstrates how many of the most influential novels of this period are united by the dramatic opposition they draw between a debased and untrustworthy conventional language, on the one hand, and a violence that appears to be prelinguistic and unquestionable, on the other. Genocide, terrorism, war, torture, slavery, rape, and murder are major themes, yet the writers insist that such events are unspeakable. Bachner takes issue with the claim made within trauma studies that history is the site of violent trauma inaccessible to ordinary representation. Instead, she argues, both trauma studies and the fiction to which it responds institutionalize an inability to address violence.

Examining such works as Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night, Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, Bachner locates the postwar prestige of violence in the disjunction between the privileged security of wealthier Americans and the violence perpetrated by the United States abroad. The literary investment in unspeakable and often immaterial violence emerges in Bachner's readings as a complex and ideologically varied literary solution to the political geography of violence in our time.

The Prestige of Violence is poised to become a major study of post-World War II US fiction. This is a remarkable account of how prominent fiction writers' formal engagement with violence provides the terms by which otherwise very disparate works of fiction come in this period to be considered serious literature.

—Andrew Hoberek, author of The Twilight of the Middle Class: Post–World War II American Fiction and White-Collar Work

The Prestige of Violence provides an in-depth and compelling examination of a crucial yet under-analyzed trend in American literature from the second half of the twentieth century. Combining meticulous close readings of the literature with shrewd analyses of the historical and theoretical happenings that undergirded its practice, Bachner reveals how the so-called unrepresentability of violence in literary language counter-intuitively only elevated its prestige as a subject for literary representation.

—Abigail Cheever, author of Real Phonies: Cultures of Authenticity in Post-World War II America

About the Author/Editor

SALLY BACHNER is an assistant professor of English at Wesleyan University.